Believe it or not, new research shows that a popular kitchen spice might work just as well to control symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) as commonly prescribed stimulants like Ritalin®.
And I find this to be particularly fascinating on a few levels.
For one, offering lower-cost alternatives to common disorders can be a real game-changer—especially for countries with less money at their disposal to spend on healthcare. And although this likely isn’t something the profit-driven U.S. healthcare system will ever take seriously, it’s a big win for global health.
Secondly, it’s nutritional research. So wherever it ultimately leads, I say bring it on. Especially if it’s something that could help eliminate daily heavy-duty pharmaceuticals for kids.
Safely manage ADHD for a dollar a day
The spice in question? Saffron (Crocus sativus)—an exotic, fragrant, delicate spice that’s instantly recognizable to any seasoned foodie. It’s used most often to lend flavor to seafood or rice dishes.
But traditional herbal medicine healers have been using saffron for centuries—to treat everything from fighting infections to relaxing muscles. The spice has no small amount of research to back up its many medicinal properties… and this study from the Tehran University of Medical Sciences in Iran is just the latest.
Researchers used a randomized, double-blind pilot trial of 50 kids aged 6 to 17 years, all diagnosed with ADHD.
Results showed that ADHD symptoms improved within just three weeks of treatment. Even better, they didn’t experience any serious adverse events. (Minor side effects—like dry mouth, headache, and decreased appetite—were similar between kids taking methylphenidate and kids taking saffron.)
Most importantly, researchers found no significant differences in effectiveness or safety between saffron and methylphenidate. They even went so far as to call this spice a “credible alternative to stimulant medications.”
And why wouldn’t they? While saffron is prohibitively expensive for heavy culinary use, a concentrated capsule would run you about $1.20 per day. Needless to say, that’s far cheaper than any prescription psychiatric drug.
The most logical alternative there is
Methylphenidate—or “prescription speed”—is a common ADHD medication with a whole slew of side effects. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the problems with this drug.
Most people don’t know this, but as many as 30 percent of kids don’t even respond to methylphenidate. (Which makes you wonder whether they really need it in the first place, or if these drugs are handed out to make schools and teachers—not students—happy. You can probably guess my opinion.)
The real issue is that when the prescription speed doesn’t work, antidepressants or antipsychotics are usually introduced next. Neither of which I want anyone taking unless it’s absolutely necessary, on account of an even larger list of hideous side effects.
I don’t know about you, but I would rather have my child eating saffron than ruining their brain cells on a psychotropic stimulant medication. A medication for which there have been no long-term studies performed to prove its safety.
Meanwhile, traditional Persian medical texts extensively document the effects of saffron on the brain—and researchers have been exploring saffron’s antidepressant benefits since the year 2000.
Analyses show that the compound crocin is the main active ingredient in saffron. And along with the other components of saffron, crocin helps stabilize levels of neurotransmitters like dopamine, norepinephrine, GABA, and N-methyl D-aspartic acid (NMDA) in the brain—improving mood, reducing anxiety, and sharpening focus.
So go ahead and call it “alternative” medicine if you want. That’s exactly what it is. But ADHD treatments don’t get more evidence-based than saffron—which means it’s also just plain good medicine.
“Popular Spice Rivals Stimulant for ADHD.” Medscape Medical News, 03/11/2019. (medscape.com/viewarticle/910205)